DAVID SMITH - Friday, May 10, 2013
ozy Altidore netted the winning goal for AZ Alkmaar on Thursday as they successfully won their first Dutch Cup title in 31 years against PSV Eindhoven.
After a largely disappointing league season which had seen them skimming just above the relegation zone as recently as mid-April, AZ finally found the gas pedal just in the nick of time to ultimately finish strongly and put another piece of silverware in their trophy cabinet.
Both AZ and the defending cup holders PSV warmed up for the game win winning streaks in league play, each blowing past all opponents in recent weeks to set up what was widely expected to be a high-scoring and high-octane affair.
PSV attacked heavily in the early going, and perhaps had reason to feel aggrieved when they were denied what looked to be a clear handball in the area after ten minutes, but quickly found themselves facing an unexpected deficit.
In the 12th minute, Adam Maher received the ball near the halfway line and proceeded to cut through the defense towards PSV's penalty area, looking for passing options but finding no easy outlets.
The in-demand, 19 year-old Dutch international simply darted through several defenders, made quick snap-back to work his way into the 18-yard box, and unleashed a low shot to the left corner that evaded Boy Waterman's grasp for the 1-0 lead.
The goal lifted Alkmaar, and they added a second from the foot of Altidore less than two minutes later.
Rasmus Elm picked out the American on a run just left of middle, sending him into space around the central defense. Altidore made a quick cut inwards and hit a low shot towards the near post from just inside the area that flew through Waterman's fingers for the 2-0 lead.
The goal was not only his cup-leading eighth tally and 31st overall this season, but gave him the distinction of having netted in every round of the competition.
PSV almost immediately fought back, and had a pair of excruciatingly close calls within the first two minutes after Altidore's goal.
They stayed on the attack and did successfully pull one back one minute past the half-hour. Following a lobbed cross through the six-yard box from the right side, Dries Mertens headed the ball back to the far post where Jürgen Locadia capitalized on the misdirection to knock it in from close range.
The second half saw PSV continue to push forward for an equalizing goal, and Locadia nearly pulled them even with 12 minutes remaining when he had plenty of space inside the area to the right of goal, but took a moment too long to set up his shot allowing a lunging AZ defender to deflect it to safety.
Altidore, having also picked up a 60th-minute yellow card, left the game in favor of American-born Aron Johannsson with two minutes in regulation, and the young Icelandic star did show some of the flash that will likely propel him into the team's starting lineup next season.
Jeremain Lens almost scored the equalizer in the 89th minute when he hit a rocket off the post, then Johannsson was perhaps wasteful with a setup from Steven Berghuis in the first minute of stoppage time when his close-range shot was well over the crossbar.
In the end, AZ withstood PSV's final push, and celebrated their first cup title since 1982 at the closing whistle.
AZ still have one more game to be played in the regular season, visiting last-place Willem II Tilburg on Sunday, with the opportunity to climb as high as eighth place in the Eredivisie standings.
Regardless of the outcome, they have qualified for the 2013-14 Europa League, and will enter the final play-off round of qualification prior to the group stage.